The death of Benazir Bhutto is assuredly going to matter in the US presidential primaries that begin in Iowa next week. Exactly how much and to whom is as yet unclear. The majority of Americans know little of the nuances of Pakistani politics. And, for the most part, whatever knowledge voters gain in the coming days will be dependent on the information and spin they are fed by TVs nattering nabobs.
Last night, when talking about the meaning of Bhutto’s death, Wolf Blitzer in conversation with Dan Rather put forth a decidedly non-nuanced message that can best be summed up as follows: Terror central!!! Islamic extremism!!! Danger, danger, danger!!!
Of course, how events in Pakistan affect the US Prez race is, in the main, dependent on the candidates themselves, all of whom—Dem and Repub—have had something to say about the assassination and what it portends:
Not surprisingly, several in the Republican field—most particularly Mitt Romney, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani— have used Benazir’s death as an opportunity to talk tough, and to tell us how afraid we ought to be and therefore how much we need one of them to protect us.
Of the Republican front runners, Romney was the least credible and the most annoying with his babbling about “”global, violent radical jihadism.”
“The world is very much at risk by virtue of these radical, violent extremists and we must come together, in great haste and great earnestness, to help overcome the threat of the spread of radical, violent jihad.”
Then later, when Anderson Cooper asked Romney about what his course of action would be if he were POTUS, he appeared embarrassingly out of his depth as he recited the obvious, like how he’d try to get Musharraf on the phone right away. (Really? Ya think?)
(NOTE TO REPUB FRIENDS: Please give this pre-programmed Ken doll the boot as soon as is humanly possible.)
McCain was also hawkish in his warning that the “forces of moderation are arrayed in a fierce battle against those who embrace violent Islamic extremism.” But he sounded a zillion times less whacked than Romney, and measurably more informed than Giuliani.
For Rudy’s part, early in the day he presented himself as the town sheriff with his pronouncements about how, “…her murderers must be brought to justice…” Later, when he talked to CNN, he talked of the things that “we” need to do to bring the country back to order and to catch the killers, seemingly forgetting that Pakistan isn’t an American protectorate.
The recently surging Huckabee sounded better equipped to be the national pastor than the Commander-in-Chief when he called for prayers (Fine.) then revealed that he didn’t know that Pakistan was no longer under emergency rule. (Not so fine.)
Fred Thompson just sounded moronic: “It’s a fight against western civilization,” he growled to reporters in Des Moines.
OF ALL THE REPUBLICANS, McCain-–whether one agrees with his saber-rattling POV or not—seemed far and away the best informed and the clearest-of-head.
On the Dem side, Bill Richardson called on George Bush to force Musharraf to step down—an insane course of action that no one with any sense, even those of us who loathe the general and wanted him to step down two months ago, would even dream of suggesting right now—particularly not in advance of the Pakistani elections, which will surely be postponed.
It was not surprising that Hillary grabbed her own opportunity with the news, emphasizing her past personal meetings as first lady with Benazir, the message being, “I alone of those running have had the kind of foreign policy experience at a level found only at the top rung of the international relations ladder.”
When he first spoke about the assassination, Obama did not have his finest moment, but sounded rather tepid and distracted. Later, he sounded better then, through spokesman David Axelrod, he picked a fight with Clinton.
Joe Biden, who all along has predicted that Pakistan is teetering on a knife’s edge, sounded sober-minded, informed and made the day’s best point:
“This fall, I twice urged President Musharraf to provide better security for Ms. Bhutto and other political leaders -– I wrote him before her return and after the first assassination attempt in October. The failure to protect Ms. Bhutto raises a lot of hard questions for the government and security services that must be answered.
(Biden’s words were later underscored when CNN revealed that it was in possession of a secret email from Bhutto dated two month’s ago saying that, if something happened to her, fault should be placed at the feet of Musharraf who had denied her the security she begged for and needed.)
In his press statement, Edwards, like Obama, sounded nondescript. But he got more forceful as the day wore on and told crowds at one rally that he’d gotten Musharraf on the phone soon after the assassination, a nice coup that definitely upped his LQ—leadership quotient.
OF ALL THE DEMOCRATS, the most points go to Edwards and Biden…..with begrudging human interest points going to Clinton for her women-at-the-top-meet-and-talk meme.
Now it remains to be seen how all this will play out in Iowa….and in Pakistan.